Tuesday, 21 February 2017

So Hard To Beat?

Do you have a teenage son, or another teenage boy in your charge?

Is he in the United States, or might you be minded to let him go there?

If so, then you must demand that that country deport Milo Yiannopoulos.

Deport him, alas, to this country. But we can deal with him once he gets here. He is our problem, not the Americans'.

As his world collapses around him, let us move on to others who have expressed similar views, and who have in some cases given them practical political effect.

As that link sets out, Margaret Thatcher fought Victoria Gillick through the courts, thereby establishing a de facto age of consent of 13 or younger without ever bothering to trouble Parliament to approve it.

But Thatcher is dead. The rest of those listed are still alive.

As is Damian Thompson, who is more to blame than anyone else for the emergence of Milo Yiannopoulos. Frankly, we can all work out what was going on there.

This is the golden opportunity to destroy Damian Thompson. It would be rude not to take it.

Our First Step Is To Reclaim Our Humanity


The events that led to Donald Trump’s election started in England in 1975. 

At a meeting a few months after Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party, one of her colleagues, or so the story goes, was explaining what he saw as the core beliefs of conservatism. 

She snapped open her handbag, pulled out a dog-eared book, and slammed it on the table. “This is what we believe,” she said. 

A political revolution that would sweep the world had begun. 

The book was The Constitution of Liberty by Frederick Hayek. Its publication, in 1960, marked the transition from an honest, if extreme, philosophy to an outright racket. 

The philosophy was called neoliberalism. It saw competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. 

The market would discover a natural hierarchy of winners and losers, creating a more efficient system than could ever be devised through planning or by design. 

Anything that impeded this process, such as significant tax, regulation, trade union activity or state provision, was counter-productive. 

Unrestricted entrepreneurs would create the wealth that would trickle down to everyone. 

This, at any rate, is how it was originally conceived. 

But by the time Hayek came to write The Constitution of Liberty, the network of lobbyists and thinkers he had founded was being lavishly funded by multimillionaires who saw the doctrine as a means of defending themselves against democracy. 

Not every aspect of the neoliberal programme advanced their interests. Hayek, it seems, set out to close the gap. 

He begins the book by advancing the narrowest possible conception of liberty: an absence of coercion. 

He rejects such notions as political freedom, universal rights, human equality and the distribution of wealth, all of which, by restricting the behaviour of the wealthy and powerful, intrude on the absolute freedom from coercion he demands. 

Democracy, by contrast, “is not an ultimate or absolute value”. 

In fact, liberty depends on preventing the majority from exercising choice over the direction that politics and society might take. 

He justifies this position by creating a heroic narrative of extreme wealth. 

He conflates the economic elite, spending their money in new ways, with philosophical and scientific pioneers. 

Just as the political philosopher should be free to think the unthinkable, so the very rich should be free to do the undoable, without constraint by public interest or public opinion. 

The ultra rich are “scouts”, “experimenting with new styles of living”, who blaze the trails that the rest of society will follow. 

The progress of society depends on the liberty of these “independents” to gain as much money as they want and spend it how they wish. 

All that is good and useful, therefore, arises from inequality. 

There should be no connection between merit and reward, no distinction made between earned and unearned income, and no limit to the rents they can charge. 

Inherited wealth is more socially useful than earned wealth: “the idle rich”, who don’t have to work for their money, can devote themselves to influencing “fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs”. 

Even when they seem to be spending money on nothing but “aimless display”, they are in fact acting as society’s vanguard. 

Hayek softened his opposition to monopolies and hardened his opposition to trade unions. 

He lambasted progressive taxation and attempts by the state to raise the general welfare of citizens. 

He insisted that there is “an overwhelming case against a free health service for all” and dismissed the conservation of natural resources. 

It should come as no surprise to those who follow such matters that he was awarded the Nobel prize for economics. 

By the time Thatcher slammed his book on the table, a lively network of thinktanks, lobbyists and academics promoting Hayek’s doctrines had been established on both sides of the Atlantic, abundantly financed by some of the world’s richest people and businesses, including DuPont, General Electric, the Coors brewing company, Charles Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife, Lawrence Fertig, the William Volker Fund and the Earhart Foundation.

Using psychology and linguistics to brilliant effect, the thinkers these people sponsored found the words and arguments required to turn Hayek’s anthem to the elite into a plausible political programme.

Thatcherism and Reaganism were not ideologies in their own right: they were just two faces of neoliberalism.

Their massive tax cuts for the rich, crushing of trade unions, reduction in public housing, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services were all proposed by Hayek and his disciples.

But the real triumph of this network was not its capture of the right, but its colonisation of parties that once stood for everything Hayek detested.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair did not possess a narrative of their own. Rather than develop a new political story, they thought it was sufficient to triangulate.

In other words, they extracted a few elements of what their parties had once believed, mixed them with elements of what their opponents believed, and developed from this unlikely combination a “third way”.

It was inevitable that the blazing, insurrectionary confidence of neoliberalism would exert a stronger gravitational pull than the dying star of social democracy.

Hayek’s triumph could be witnessed everywhere from Blair’s expansion of the private finance initiative to Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act, which had regulated the financial sector.

For all his grace and touch, Barack Obama, who didn’t possess a narrative either (except “hope”), was slowly reeled in by those who owned the means of persuasion.

As I warned in April, the result is first disempowerment then disenfranchisement.

If the dominant ideology stops governments from changing social outcomes, they can no longer respond to the needs of the electorate.

Politics becomes irrelevant to people’s lives; debate is reduced to the jabber of a remote elite.

The disenfranchised turn instead to a virulent anti-politics in which facts and arguments are replaced by slogans, symbols and sensation.

The man who sank Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency was not Donald Trump. It was her husband.

The paradoxical result is that the backlash against neoliberalism’s crushing of political choice has elevated just the kind of man that Hayek worshipped.

Trump, who has no coherent politics, is not a classic neoliberal.

But he is the perfect representation of Hayek’s “independent”; the beneficiary of inherited wealth, unconstrained by common morality, whose gross predilections strike a new path that others may follow.

The neoliberal thinktankers are now swarming round this hollow man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled by those who know what they want.

The likely result is the demolition of our remaining decencies, beginning with the agreement to limit global warming.

Those who tell the stories run the world. Politics has failed through a lack of competing narratives.

The key task now is to tell a new story of what it is to be a human in the 21st century.

It must be as appealing to some who have voted for Trump and Ukip as it is to the supporters of Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn.

A few of us have been working on this, and can discern what may be the beginning of a story.

It’s too early to say much yet, but at its core is the recognition that – as modern psychology and neuroscience make abundantly clear – human beings, by comparison with any other animals, are both remarkably social and remarkably unselfish.

The atomisation and self-interested behaviour neoliberalism promotes run counter to much of what comprises human nature.

Hayek told us who we are, and he was wrong.

Our first step is to reclaim our humanity.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Far From Famous Five


They are Duddridge, Daniel Kawczynski, Alec Shelbrooke, Karl McCartney and Andrew Bridgen. 

Quite.

But The Dud is holding out for "as many as 23". 

There are 650 members of the House of Commons.

Dangerous, Indeed

In my experience, Milo Yiannopoulos is a particularly vigorous defender of his career-making old patron, Damian Thompson. 

It turns out that Yiannopoulos is also an advocate of sex between older men and "sexually mature" 13-year-old boys.

The United States ought to deport him.

That does mean that we would have to take him back.

But we could, should and would be waiting for him at the airport.

A posse of the mothers of the victims of child sexual abuse might usefully be a component of his welcoming party.

That might also rally against him outside Thompson's home address, which he gives in Who's Who.

Crushing

As UKIP on Merseyside falls apart over Paul Nuttall's lies, Hillsborough continues to haunt British politics and even the wider culture, as the perfect encapsulation of the Britain of the 1980s.

Scousers, Northerners in general, working-class people (perhaps especially men), football supporters in the days before the poshest Prime Minister since 1964 was pretending to support some made-up team: no one cared even if 96 such people were unlawfully killed in a single afternoon.

Indeed, everyone who mattered thought that killing that was a social service, and the whole thing was treated as an object of ridicule for decades.

Again, the perfect encapsulation of the Britain of, and since, the 1980s.

But, as the saying goes, "The North Remembers". For ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Bring Your Banners, Bring Your Voices


Kraft Work

I am glad that Kraft has dropped its bid for Unilever.

Recovering the ability to ban this kind of thing will be a very good reason for leaving the EU.

Of course, while it might be one of Theresa May's reasons, it will never be one of, for example, Liam Fox's or Boris Johnson's.

So, for this, we need someone like, oh, Jeremy Corbyn.

Neither Washington Nor Brussels

It May Harm Your Defence

The Police are investigating Paul Nuttall, for his false statement about his address.

The Police are also investigating Theresa May, for her lying leaflet about Stoke's Labour MPs and Article 50.

They are both bang to rights.

But the Police do not hate Paul Nuttal.

They do, however, hate Theresa May.

She'll be nicked first, and with no shortage of tipped off television cameras.

Almost Casually

It hardly seems believable that 10 years have passed since the publication of Simon Jenkins's landmark Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts. Therein, he wrote:

When introducing the Poll Tax, Thatcher had decided almost casually to end local taxes on business property, or rather decided to fix and gather them centrally. These constituted more than half of all local revenue.

She argued that since businesses did not vote (or pay Poll Tax), they should not be vulnerable to continued local taxation, which was often discriminatory against them.

It was not an argument that worried central government in levying corporation tax. The bartering of business taxes was an accepted part of dynamic urban renewal worldwide.

Yet, without any leave or consultation, Thatcher in effect added the local business rates to corporation tax, collected them centrally and redistributed them to their relevant councils by a complex historical formula.

The introduction of Council Tax offered an opportunity to restore business rates to local councils. Major declined to do so.

Labour in Opposition pledged itself to reverse this decision, and then broke its pledge. The Treasury always ruled.

In 1994, the so-called uniform business rate yielded £12.3 billion, against £8.8 billion from the suppressed Council Tax, representing a huge transfer of fiscal control from local government to the centre.

The centralising of the business rate in 1990 was the single biggest act of true nationalisation ever undertaken by a British government, yet it passed virtually unnoticed.

By the end of the Major period, local treasurers reckoned that their discretion to vary their budgets in response to the local franchise had shrunk to near insignificance.

Alert?


I'll say this for the North Koreans, at least their missiles go in the intended direction.

"And Do The Exposing Yourself"

An attack on Jeremy Corbyn worked into an article about autism? 

Nick Cohen is not a well man. 

Really, he isn't.

Alma Mater Needs You

My mate Harry Cross is standing for President of DSU in order to save the real University of Durham. 

That is not an exaggeration. 

The powers that be want to get rid of free Wednesday afternoons. 

They want to get rid of the three weeks of fun and games after the exams. 

And they want a huge increase in student numbers, changing the whole character of the University and the City alike, not least by pushing rents, which are already outrageous, even further through the roof. 

This is a cause worthy of every support. 

Including financial support. If that is allowed. It probably isn't, but check with Harry.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Domestic Service

Taking personal charge of the issue of domestic violence, Prime Minister?

Well, then, you had better do something about all those closed and closing women's refuges.

Sweet Charity


Not only is Labour going to hold Stoke Central, but I would no longer bet against an increased majority.

Nor even against a UKIP third place.

If that latter were indeed to occur, then does anyone seriously imagine that Theresa May would invoke Article 50 by the end of next month?

And if she had not invoked Article 50 by the end of next month, then would anyone expect her to do so at any subsequent time?

Remember that she got the Leadership, and thus the Premiership, precisely because she was a Remainer.

It was not even deemed to be worth having an election over that.

The Labour candidate at Stoke Central is bloody awful.

But the UKIP candidate is even worse. And he is the Leader of UKIP. 

Very probably, he is the last ever Leader of UKIP.

Minding Our Own Business

If I were the European Commission or the European Central Bank, then I would make it my business, so to speak, to buy up the likes of Vauxhall, and Williams & Glyn, and possibly even Unilever.

"Britain can leave the EU if it likes," that would say, "but the EU will not be leaving Britain."

There is nothing to stop that from happening.

Just as there is nothing to stop those bodies from following the lead of numerous foreign states, within the EU and without it, in buying up the key British services and infrastructure that the British State used to own.

The likes of Liam Fox wish to ensure that after Brexit, such acquisitions will not only be just as easy as they are today, but if anything they will be even easier, and even more actively encouraged.

In the meantime, let there be a rescue bid for Vauxhall, and for Williams & Glyn, and possibly even for Unilever, by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

The Pits

If there is one thing about which the Blairite Right is completely hysterical, then it is anything to do with the miners. 

That hatred is like nothing else in British politics.

Partly, it is because of the Eurocommunist roots of New Labour, as against the world of Mick McGahey and the Morning Star.

And partly, it is an uncomprehending fury, a furious incomprehension, that some people and some places not only voted Labour before the emergence of Tony Blair, but have continued to do so even after what, until yesterday, we had happily assumed to have been his departure from the scene.


A trade union is perfectly free to do whatever it likes with its money, unless it breaks the law.

A trade union with only 10 members, all of them living in the old mining corner of Northumberland, must be nothing if not accountable internally.

But quite apart from either of those points, why are the Murdoch media going after Ian Lavery, anyway?

Murdoch cannot possibly expect any other party to win the Wansbeck seat in the event of a by-election. Rather, he wants a very right-wing Labour MP there.

What are always his achingly posh London hacks additionally want an MP who is less frightfully working-class, who does not have an Irish surname, and who has not lived his entire life in the North East, which they have never visited, and which they imagine to be near Manchester.

¡No pasarán!

The Brexit Collection

My five star review of Ken Bell: 

Bell makes a powerful case for Brexit as the revenge of a working class that has been marginalised and dispossessed since, not only the Thatcher years, but the turn to monetarism under Callaghan.

He argues for strong immigration controls while the present economic system remains in place, in order to prevent the undercutting of wages and the undermining of workers' hard-won rights.

Now resident in Scotland, he calls for Scottish independence outside the EU, pointing out the absurdity of the SNP's opposition to rule from London but support for rule from Brussels. I do not agree with Scottish independence, but Bell's is the logical articulation of that position.

 "The Durham Miners would never wear it," were the words that the British Government of the late 1940s wrote across the plans for the EU's first precursor, before duly sending them back.

That was that. "The Durham Miners would never wear it." So the United Kingdom's answer was no.

That meant the Durham Miners' Association, with its vast network of national and international contacts. But it also meant the miners themselves, who were the basis of that Association's wealth and power.

Yet on the day of the EU referendum, Thursday 23rd June 2016, we learned that in 2015, for the first time on record, more people had died in the North East of England, from which I write, than had been born here.

County Durham voted Leave, and Sunderland, which had been part of the Durham coalfield in the 1940s, shook the international money markets by doing so.

Albeit from a perspective partly in the North West and partly in Scotland, Bell explains why.

Faux Manchu

They said that Obama, too, was a Manchurian Candidate.

And I do mean "they".

Like the birtherism to which it was closely connected, the theory, although enthusiastically taken up by Republicans, originated with the Clintons and their ghastly mob.

They, meanwhile, remained and remain a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Four Into Two

Watch out for all four living former Prime Ministers, two of each party, to call for a second referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.

But they will not be able to include the three living former Deputy Prime Ministers, who are from three different parties, because one of those accepts the result of the referendum that we have already had.

Which one? The Labour one. Of course.

Things Fall Apart?

Not least because there has never been a critical biography of him, there are all sorts of unappreciated things about Tony Blair. 

One is that he is a dedicated Francophile. 

Today, he probably sees himself as de Gaulle. But he far more closely resembles Giscard d'Estaing at Verdun-sur-le-Doubs in 1978.

Giscard identified four elements to the French political opinion of the day: Gaullists, Communists, supporters of Mitterrand's Socialist Party, and those whom he himself had decided to organise into the UDF, which was modestly to be named after his own most recent book.

Blair's vision is not dissimilar.

And Giscard's pro-European and pro-American Presidency of economic and social liberalisation may be seen as the original definition of "the centre" in those arbitrary terms.

Blair's latest initiative may well be those terms' last stand.

And his. Although we have thought that before.

National Health

Paul Nuttall did used to want to privatise the NHS. In his heart of hearts, he probably still does.

Yet today, he called for massively increased spending on it and on the intimately connected social care system.

In Britain, you can lead a major political party and want to abolish the monarchy.

That is probably or certainly the position of the Leaders of two of the three largest parties in the House of Commons.

But you cannot lead even a minor political party and question the State's direct ownership of hospitals staffed by its direct employees.

Those employees provide their services free of charge at the point of need, and they have been trained entirely by the State.

This entire arrangement is altogether beyond question.

Most people would tell you that that simply was Britain; that it was not very far from being the whole point of this country.

If you doubt that, then consider that the Leader of the most right-wing party in Great Britain has had to pay extravagant homage to it today in order to salvage so much as a respectable second place at a forthcoming by-election.

And consider that no party in Northern Ireland would ever dream of questioning it in the slightest.

The DUP might like to pretend that fundamentalist Protestantism was the glue of the Union, and the United Kingdom's defining difference from the Irish Republic.

But it knows perfectly well what really is. And so does everyone else.

Blexit

Labour cannot even be bothered to issue a statement in response to Tony Blair, which is quite extraordinary, when you think about it. 

As is the castigation of him for the Iraq War by Boris Johnson, who voted in favour of it. 

And the Lib Dems say that people who agree with Blair should join them. 

Yet they were no friends of his when he was Prime Minister, and their current Leader's views on everything else do not chime with his in the least.

"People Are Entitled To Change Their Minds"

You'd know, Tony Blair.

You'd know.

These days, even the Leader of UKIP, who was a Conservative activist when you were Prime Minister, wants to be taken for Old Labour.

The policy proposals of the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat Leaders would have precluded their service in your Government.

The policy proposals of the Leader of the Labour Party did preclude service in your Government, and caused him to vote against it 500 times.

With no party description, I shall be contesting the new seat of Durham West and Teesdale in 2020. The Labour MP for most of it will be retiring.

So, an open seat, right here in your old County Durham stomping ground. 

Tony Blair, you can either put up, or shut up.

The New Normal

"Working-class communities"? "Heating or eating"? A war on VAT?

In the voice of Len McCluskey, Paul Nuttall impersonates the rhetoric, and even the specific policy agenda, of Dennis Skinner and Ronnie Campbell, of Angela Rayner and Richard Burgon.

Unlike Theresa May, Nuttall did not join the Conservative Party of Ted Heath. Like me, he was not born until after Heath had ceased to be Leader.

It never ceases to amaze me that Nuttall is only 10 months older than I am, which makes him younger than the Beckhams, younger than Ant and Dec.

Such, though, is in fact the case.

He joined the Conservative Party that imposed VAT on domestic fuel and power, after it had done all manner of other things to working-class communities.

Yet listen to him today.

The progress of Britain towards sinistrisme is almost complete.

Leave won the EU referendum in, from its own point of view, all the wrong places.

The places that voted Leave essentially demanded their mines, steelworks and factories back, complete with the unions and everything.

The places that benefited from Thatcherism voted Remain so heavily that the Lib Dems are on course to take dozens of seats from the Conservatives in 2020, leading to a hung Parliament.

The explicit policy commitment that swung the referendum was the promise of an extra £350 million per week for the National Health Service.

The Conservatives did not even have an election in order to install a Leader who wanted workers' representatives on boards, control of pay disparities within companies, and much else besides.

Labour has massively re-elected the massively elected Jeremy Corbyn, whose very presence shifts the debate in directions that had previously been unimaginable.

The Lib Dems have their most left-wing Leader ever, who is especially far to the left of the last one.

And now this, from the Leader of UKIP. Yes, UKIP.

Led by Corbyn, however, Labour is still going to beat even him at Stoke Central.

Think on.

Rise Up With Blair?

The poor, deluded old soul is just a tragic figure now.

His occasional Norman Desmond interventions, such as this one, have nothing of the emotional power of the original. 

No, dear, you are not still big.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Desperate Stoking

An anonymous text message to such Muslims as there are in Stoke Central, which has mysteriously found its way into the hands of the Lib Dems.

And a far from anonymous Conservative leaflet, signed by the Prime Minister, in which she falsely claims that all of the local Labour MPs voted against Article 50.

Labour has won, and everyone knows it.

Theresa May ought to be pleased, since as soon as that result is in, then she will no longer have to pay the slightest attention to the Right.

That force will be spent for at least a generation, and possibly forever.

Britain has already acquired a variation on the old French theme of sinistrisme, in which no one ever admitted to being right-wing as such.

Sarkozy was the Fifth Republic's first President ever to do so. But if you need to, then look up his predecessors.

Left-wing politicians proudly owned the name, while everyone else claimed to be a centrist, or even to be a bit on the leftish side, or to reject the terminology.

The only avowedly right-wing candidate for President in 1974 was Jean-Marie Le Pen, even though that election was won by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

In 1981, no candidate at all professed to be of the Right, even though the first and third places in the first round went respectively to Giscard and to Jacques Chirac.

From next Friday morning, this country is going to be like that.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Respective Partisans

There are five Groups on Durham County Council, plus two completely Independent Independents, one of whom, Alex Watson, is the Patron of my campaign.

But only Labour members voted against the Teaching Assistants.

None voted in support of the campaign that has electrified the trade union movement and the Left throughout the country, thereby earning international attention.

Yet that campaign has been endorsed by the Leader of the Labour Party, at the largest working-class and left-wing event in Europe, in front of at least 150,000 people and the television cameras.

Only the Conservatives even formally abstained, although that does make the Labour Group objectively "worse than the Tories".

It is therefore not only reasonable, but morally and politically obligatory, to call for the election of no Labour candidate whatever to that Council on 4th May.

And then, what?

A Cabinet position for every non-Labour Group and for those of no Group, with the numbers made up based on their relative size.

The same for Scrutiny Chairs, obviously never mirroring the portfolios of their respective partisans.

And representation on each committee and subcommittee in proportion to their numbers on the authority as a whole.

Renewable Energy

Think how they felt. But they had been warned to be polite.


Of course, if this had been Jeremy Corbyn, then we would never have heard the end of how he hated children.

But anyway, if Theresa May now maintains that hers is the party of civil nuclear power, then that represents a very significant change.

David Cameron, with his windmill fixation, called it "a last resort" when Gordon Brown and the then Energy Secretary, Ed Miliband, were expanding it.

The unions have always been significant proponents of it.

It is true that Corbyn has a history of lukewarmness towards it. But he supports the current project in Copeland.

His more general reservations are rooted in his continuing support, which I have heard him express to many thousands of people and the television cameras, for the renewed exploitation of this country's vast reserves of coal.

During the last Parliament, I heard Miliband say the same thing to the same enormous and televised annual event.

If May can shift on nuclear power, then she can shift on coal, too.

Or be replaced with someone who would indeed bring back that industry, with its vital role in securing this country's independence from the world's volatile centres of oil and gas production, and who had proved that he would by his pressing of her to do so.

Step forward, Jeremy Corbyn.

Hackney Carriage To National Treasurehood

It is a pity, because he ought to have gone on a point of principle, and he was expected to do so.

But his conduct towards Diane Abbott has made the position of David Davis untenable.

When the defeat of UKIP at Stoke Central has marked the end of any pretence that the British political spectrum extended any further right than, say, George Osborne, then the fatally wounded Davis will be counting the days.

Like that of the scandalous Liam Fox, Davis's office exists only because, while Boris Johnson had to be given something, he could not be given anything important.

Johnson has responsibility neither for international trade nor for relations with the EU. What, exactly, does this Foreign Secretary do?

Abbott, meanwhile, has spent this week attaining a status not far from that which was enjoyed by the late Queen Mother.

Can you imagine that something like Newzoids will now depict her, if at all, then in anything other than the gentlest, and even the most downright affectionate, of ways?

Never mind the BBC or Channel 4.

Anything else will be confined to the comments threads of the worst right-wing websites.

And after the result at Stoke Central, who will even read those websites anymore?

The most swivel-eyed hatred of Diane Abbott that I have ever heard came, back in the day, from Neil Fleming.

He hated Tony Benn in the same visceral, uncontainable way.

Whatever became of Neil Fleming? He would have been 40 next month.

"It's A Pity They Can't Both Lose"

Whether or not Henry Kissinger ever said it, someone did.

It is my favourite quotation, which I find endlessly useful.

And it applies perfectly to the battle between, on one side, Donald Trump, and on the other, Mike Pence and his neoconservative backers in and around the "Intelligence Community".

To them, Pence would be no worse than Bush was, and a Clinton-without-the-Clintons candidate would do against him in 2020.

Lost Tribes, Indeed

Democracy is a far more complicated concept than many, and perhaps most, people seem to realise.

It does not, for example, oblige any member of either House of Parliament to vote in favour of withdrawal from the European Union because of the referendum result, or indeed for any other reason.

In fact, it never obliges any member of either House of Parliament to vote in any way whatever.

Rather, it is an endlessly delicate balance among majority rights, minority rights, and individual rights.

Within which, it is possible for a state to be both Jewish and democratic. If its citizenry contains a Jewish majority.

But a state comprised of Israel and the West Bank, or call it what you will, is never going to contain a Jewish majority. That is just a fact.

In fact, Israel itself has largely given up on a Jewish majority, and will now settle for any kind of non-Arab one.

It will take in Russians who refuse to eat kosher food, and who insist on taking their Israeli Defence Force oaths on the New Testament alone.

It will take in, or at least it now contains, Russian Nazis; yes, really.

It will take in East Africans who have invented a religion based on the Old Testament brought by Christian missionaries.

It will take in Peruvian Indians "converted to Judaism" and then put on the plane, in a single and remunerated action.

It will take in absolutely anyone at all, so long as they are not Arabs.

Even the Pashtun, who are now classified as a Lost Tribe with a view to airlifting them to Israel in future, since at least they are not Arabs.

They are Sunni Muslims, of course. But that is not the same thing. Not the same thing at all.

The Arab fifth of Israel's current population, the majority in about half of its land area, has a very tough time.

But its members have the vote. There have been Arabs in every Knesset.

If Israel proceeds down its current path, then it will have to allow citizens of some ethnicities but not others (or of one, anyway, and that the majority) to vote, to live anywhere rather than only in certain designated areas, and so forth.

There is a word for that.

Completely Baseless

Harriet Agerholm writes: 

Prosecutors are investigating two people for allegedly fabricating an account of a mass sex attack by Arab migrants in Frankfurt. 

Claims that a “sex rioting mob” of around 50 men assaulted a group of women over the new year were reported by German tabloid Bild earlier this month. 

The report, which suggested the attackers lived at a refugee shelter in central Hasse, was widely re-circulated by right-wing news sites. 

In an article since taken down from its website, Bild interviewed a chef who runs a restaurant in Fressgass, a busy shopping district, as well as a 27-year-old woman. 

The chef alleged that dozens of Arab men came into his restaurant in, stole his customers' jackets and sexually assaulted multiple women. 

The 27-year-old female told the paper: “They grabbed me under my skirt, between the legs and on my breast – everywhere.” 

Yet, police said on Tuesday they believed the allegations were “completely baseless”. 

One of the purported victims of the alleged attack was not in Frankfurt at the time of the purported crime, they said. 

“Interviews with alleged witnesses, guests and employees led to major doubts with the version of events that had been presented,” police told German daily Frankfurter Rundschau. 

“One of the alleged victims was not even in Frankfurt at the time the allegations are said to have taken place.” 

They concluded: “Masses of refugees were not responsible for any sexual assaults in the Fressgass over New Year. The accusations are completely baseless.” 

No sexual assaults were reported to police from the the area over New Year before the Bild report, they said. Investigators were looking into whether the pair had made up the story.

Bild's editor-in-chief Julian Reichelt issued an apology on behalf of the tabloid, writing in a tweet

“We apologise for our own work. I’ll shortly announce what Bild will do about it.”

Clearly and Maliciously Attempting to Subvert

Consider that Owen Jones castigated Jeremy Corbyn for attending the eightieth anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Cable Street, as you read that Jonathan Cook writes: 

I have never been overly sold on Owen Jones. 

From his platform at the Guardian, he has spent far too much time whining about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his failure to reach out to voters rather than using his rare spot in the mainstream media to help him to do precisely that. 

But this news has knocked me sideways. 

It was announced yesterday that Jones is lined up to give a memorial lecture in April on behalf of the Jewish Labour Movement – the same group implicated in the recent efforts of the Israeli embassy to damage a Corbyn-led Labour party with confected allegations of anti-Semitism. 

All of this was exposed last month in an undercover Al Jazeera investigation. 

The Jewish Labour Movement was effectively shown to be acting as a front for the Israeli government’s efforts to oust Corbyn over a supposed anti-Semitism crisis in the party. 

Israel hates Corbyn because of his long-standing position in support of Palestinian rights. 

The announcement of Jones’ lecture was written by Ella Rose, the former Israeli embassy official who tried to conceal her past after she became the director of the Jewish Labour Movement. 

She was one of those caught on Al Jazeera’s hidden cameras – in her case threatening to beat up black-Jewish Labour party activist Jackie Walker, who has been the prime target of these phoney anti-Semitism allegations. 

None of this is secret history. 

I first wrote about the Jewish Labour Movement’s role in trying to subvert Corbyn back in September. 

It is not even as though we can credit Jones with some kind of live-and-let-live attitude to free speech. 

Remember back in 2013 he pulled out at the last minute, and without warning, as a speaker at an important Stop the War rally to prevent British military intervention in Syria. 

His grounds? He had come under fire from the armchair interventionists because he was to speak alongside Mothers Agnes, a Syrian-based nun who was seen as being too pro-Assad.

The reasons Syrian Christians like Mother Agnes might support Bashar Assad were pretty obvious even then, but are blindingly so now.

Mother Agnes pulled out of the rally to try to salvage it, but Jones continued to refuse to take part. 

I criticised Jones then over his cowardly and irresponsible behaviour. 

Now he needs to explain how the principles that drove him away from the Stop the War rally can allow him to support a group, the Jewish Labour Movement, that is so clearly and maliciously attempting to subvert the elected leader of the Labour party. 

UPDATE: 

Owen Jones has responded to this blog post both on Twitter, calling it “tedious nonsense” in his usual, dismissive style, and with a post here that tries to deflect attention from my argument with a straw man: that a conspiracy theory is painting him as a stooge of the Israeli government. 

No conspiracy is being posited here – only very, very poor judgement. 

I have also not accused him of working on behalf of the Israeli government. 

Only of assisting, presumably thoughtlessly, those who are working on behalf of the Israeli government inside the Jewish Labour Movement, including most definitely its current director, Ella Rose. 

Sadly, though predictably, he has avoided addressing the point of my criticism. 

It is great that he wants to pay his respects to a friend’s late father, and I am sure there are responsible ways he can do that. 

But one of them is certainly not by adding his name and credibility to an organisation that was recently exposed by an undercover investigation to have been acting as a front for Israeli government efforts to subvert the elected leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. 

The Jewish Labour Movement has been working to confect allegations of anti-Semitism against other Labour party members. 

That is a serious form of verbal violence against members of Jones’ own party that has the power to do its victims great harm, personally and professionally. 

Let’s not also forget, as I pointed out, that Ella Rose, who will be hosting Owen Jones’ lecture, was filmed threatening physical violence against a fellow Labour party member, Jackie Walker. 

I was astounded that Jones accepted this offer from the Jewish Labour Movement. 

I am even more astonished that he is so casually dismissive of the very real harm caused by the actions of this organisation and its leaders. 

UPDATE 2: 

Depressing to see that Owen Jones has now retweeted approvingly a conspiracy theory against critics like me. 

Apparently we are CIA-funded.  

Paradoxically, in Jones’ original response, he accused his critics of being “conspiracy theorists”.

By Law Established

Redefining marriage because the civil law had changed would obviously be ridiculous and repugnant if you were a Catholic or, for example, a Baptist.

But it was what the Church of England was set up for.

The problem is with the fundamental nature and character of the Church of England itself.

No Guarantee

An ostensibly triumphalistic Theresa May was in Copeland today. 

Four times, she declined to guarantee the local hospital's threatened maternity ward. 

She also failed to guarantee the Moorside nuclear power station, unlike even Jeremy Corbyn.

It ain't over till it's over.

Then, if the Thin Lady still sang, it would be a very different tune from today's.

Comings and Goings


Think on. 

As a worst case scenario, no one suggests fewer than 150 Labour MPs, ever, including in 2020. We all know where they would be.

That would mean Official Opposition status, with everything that followed from that, just as at present.

No one else except the Conservatives could ever begin to dream of 150 seats. 

Meanwhile, the next Parliament will contain no UKIP MPs. At all.

Labour and the Conservatives are permanent. Everything else comes and goes around them.

And UKIP, which barely came, is about to go.

The deaths of both major parties have been predicted many times, including by me.

But believe in either of them when you see it, and not one second before.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

That Struggle Continues

Her detractors will never be well enough known to be forgotten. But the name of Diane Abbott will live forever:

The Nobel prize-winning author Toni Morrison once said, “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” 

And as a young woman the “book I wanted to read” was a narrative where a black woman could be a member of the UK parliament. It was an extremely unlikely aspiration. 

After the 1983 general election, out of 650 members of parliament in total, there were no black, Asian or minority ethnic MPs – and only 23 women

But I ignored the odds and was elected in 1987, the first ever black woman MP. 

The campaign was tough. A brick was thrown through a window at my campaign HQ. 

Many Labour party members worked hard to back me, others went missing. 

The Times had marked my selection by complaining about my “rhetoric of class struggle and skin-colour consciousness”. 

Judging by the wariness with which I was treated when I entered the House of Commons, many MPs agreed with The Times.

But suppose that someone had told me back then that 30 years on I would be receiving stuff like this: 

“Pathetic useless fat black piece of shit Abbott. Just a piece of pig shit pond slime who should be fucking hung (if they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight).” 

I think that even the young, fearless Diane Abbott might have paused for thought.

And this is not an isolated example. I receive racist and sexist abuse online on a daily basis. 

I have had rape threats, death threats, and am referred to routinely as a bitch and/or nigger, and am sent horrible images on Twitter. 

The death threats include an EDL-affiliated account with the tag “burn Diane Abbott”. 

I have never written about all this before. 

I am well aware that there are people who will deny it happens, others who seem to think that sexist abuse is the price women pay for being in public life, and some who just don’t care. 

But last week was a perfect storm. 

Parliament and the Parliamentary Labour Party were roiled by the vote on Brexit

There were journalists outside my house on a daily basis; a Tory councillor was suspended for retweeting an image of me as an ape with lipstick. 

And accompanying it all, a crescendo of blatantly racist and sexist abuse online. 

Then, just when I thought the worst was over, there was horrible coverage in a Sunday tabloid of a misogynist text exchange about me sent by a cabinet minister. 

Such sexism towards female MPs is sadly still commonplace: only last week, a Tory MP had to apologise for making barking noises at the SNP’s Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh as she spoke in a debate. 

The point of this article is not, however, how I am treated as an individual. In 30 years in politics I have never complained about that. 

But I went into politics to create space for women and other groups who have historically been treated unfairly. 

Once, the pushback was against the actual arguments for equality and social justice. Now the pushback is the politics of personal destruction. 

This is doubly effective for opponents of social progress. 

Not only does it tend to marginalise the female “offender”, but other women look at how those of us in the public space are treated and think twice about speaking up publicly, let alone getting involved in political activity. 

Who needs their intelligence, motivation and personal appearance to be savaged in the tabloids and online?Better to stay silent or say whatever the men are saying. 

Online culture has also had a marked effect on mainstream media, because facts are blurred so often online. 

Journalists for some “respectable” newspapers can be dismissive when you point out that they have printed something false and for which they have no evidence. 

And mainstream media coverage increasingly feeds off a misogynist online culture

This is an issue for all women in the public space, and it is particularly an issue for those of us who would like to see more young women involved in political activity and debate in the wider society. 

All of this takes place with Brexit looming and with the dark shadow of Donald Trump cast across the international scene. 

There are lots of respectable reasons to have voted for Brexit. 

Tony Benn supported exiting the EU all his life and nobody could have said he was anything other than a staunch progressive and internationalist. 

But if online commentary and the rise in racist incidents are anything to go by, there is a danger that Brexit could give some people permission to express sentiments that are anything but progressive and internationalist. 

And as the world adjusts to a Trump presidency there is also a danger that his misogyny and virulent anti-immigrant narrative will become normalised. 

But despite these difficult times, Toni Morrison got it right when she said in a 2004 essay

“There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language.” 

And we also do politics. 

Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see. 

Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.

Bad Bootle Meff, Indeed

Paul Nuttall might want to hold on to that house in Stoke after all.

They take Hillsborough very seriously on Merseyside.

Would it now be safe for him to go back?

I am not joking.

No Return To Cunningham

The treatment of the Teaching Assistants has provided a focus for what has become in recent years the mounting anger with the everlasting, right-wing-if-anything Labour Leadership of Durham County Council.

But that authority has always been surrounded by a certain aura.

Or, at any rate, it has been since at least the 1960s.

In the present climate, if so much as one Labour candidate were elected to Durham County Council this May, then that would prove nothing, absolutely nothing, other than the corruption of the Returning Officer.

And it would prove that corruption beyond any reasonable doubt.

Inflatable Incompetence

The Conservatives get a completely free pass on the economy.

And we are all very literally paying the price for it.

Nationally Important Systems, Indeed

So why did you privatise them into the hands of any foreign state that happened to want to buy them?

We may only hope that no such state will ever wish to bomb or disable itself.

But note that our infrastructure is now a target for anyone with a grievance against any of its owners.

Take a look at who and what some of those owners are.

Delete Without Reinstalling

Assume that the future battlefields are indeed in cyberspace.

If, for the sake of argument, Vladimir Putin could cut off the power supply to London at the touch of a button (resulting, yes, in some deaths, such as in hospitals or on the Tube), then why would he need a nuclear bomb?

And if, for the sake of argument, Theresa May could cut off the power supply to Moscow at the touch of a button, then why would she need a nuclear bomb, either?

In this age of cyberwarfare, nuclear weapons are obsolete.

If you can take down the power supply to London or Moscow merely by hacking into a computer, then who needs a nuke as a weapon, and what good is it as a deterrent?

In Like Flynn

I am pleased to accept the position of National Security Advisor to the President of the United States. Does he really think he could get any better?

But seriously, this is a victory for those of us who do not want war with Iran.

And the principles that have been used to require the resignation of Michael Flynn ought now also to be applied to all American Senators, Congressmen and others who have held private talks with the person or representative of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hearts and Flowers

Not all roses are red. And violets are violet. So there. 

The Flower-Crowned Skull of St Valentine may be venerated at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in Rome. 

Far more edifying than anything else today, as I am sure that we can all agree. 

Ora pro nobis.


A Peg Or Two

Consider quite how bad Gareth Snell is.

And then consider that even he is going to beat Paul Nuttall.

It would also be worth doing a little feature on the seven people who have so far won the parliamentary elections that Nigel Farage has failed to win.

Where is he now, anyway? He was supposed to become one or more of a Peer, a Minister and an Ambassador.

But instead, he is a shock joke on a radio station that dare not schedule his programme against George Galloway's.

I do understand why George decided not to contest Stoke Central; I know slightly more about that than is in the public domain.

Still, though, it would have been sublime to see him, of all people, deliver the killer blow to UKIP, which will for all practical purposes cease to exist in the early hours of next Friday morning.

If, however, that blow has to be delivered by Snell, then, regrettable though that is, that is how it is going to have to be.

I remain a Leaver. 

But too many of them are bullies who have now reached the stage of demanding the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons, even though there is no suggestion that he chairs it anything other than impartially.

They have reached the stage of demanding the removal of MPs who exercised their constitutional right to vote however they saw fit on the floor of that House.

And they have reached the stage of demanding the abolition of the other House of Parliament altogether.

All on the basis of 52 per cent of 72 per cent of the eligible vote, plus what was at best a tenuously connected election result in a foreign country.

It will do them no harm at all to be brought down a peg or two.

Not so much in the cause of EU membership or "Soft Brexit", as in the cause of political debate around the issues that concern the electorate at large.

Changing Our Values


This week the European Parliament finally gets a vote on the Canada-EU trade deal CETA

It’s taken years to get to this point, and the vote is likely to be close, reflecting just how contentious global trade policies have become. 

Many MEPs are worried about CETA, reflecting the views of millions of European citizens who have been lobbying them to vote it down. 

They are concerned about the impact it will have on food standards, public services and financial regulation. CETA, like its better known US cousin TTIP is all about deregulation.

There are deep concerns about the ‘corporate court’ system which will afford so many more corporations special legal process to sue European governments for passing laws they don’t like.



For all the EU’s reforms, environmental regulation, public service nationalisation, financial regulation – all could be challenged, costing the taxpayer on both sides of the Atlantic a fortune.


Despite this, MEPs are wrestling over how to vote.

Because in our brave new world, a trade deal with Justin Trudeau’s Canada, which shares so many of our values, seems an urgent necessity.

Wouldn’t it be a reaffirmation of the very liberal international order threatened by Trump?

Wouldn’t it help us bring together a non-Trump economic bloc?

It’s a seductive logic – and enjoyable to give Trump a poke in the eye. But it isn’t true.

There’s nothing more helpful to Trump and the wave of European populism than passing CETA this week.

First CETA would open up Europe to direct challenge by US corporations in special corporate courts.

Something like 40,000 of the biggest US corporations have subsidiaries in Canada which could use CETA to sue European governments.

This is a game-changer – we’ve never faced anything like it, and we will get sued for simply passing laws aimed at protecting people and the environment.

Canada’s big mining sector doesn’t have any higher ‘values’ than US big business, either.

These companies have already shown themselves more than willing to take on governments like Romania, in secret ‘courts’, under a separate deal, when that government saw fit to halt a mining project built on a site of environmental and historical importance.

For all his rhetoric, Trump is a firm supporter of deregulation and corporate power.

A quick look at how US oil, financial, military and pharmaceutical stock rose after Trump’s election showed that clearly.

Trump is stripping away corporate regulation at a frightening speed.

Why would he be against anything that gives US corporations the power to bully foreign countries?  

Don’t forget – Trump’s own interests are involved here.

For example, Trump owns quite a lot of land in Scotland and has a history of challenging Scottish regulation which poses any threat to his golfing profits.

A corporate court in CETA would help him in future.

Second, CETA has nothing to do with reaffirming European and Canadian values.

As a matter of fact, it’s all about changing our values.

CETA isn’t about people at all, but forwarding corporate interests to the point where ‘people’ barely feature in decision-making.

CETA’s process of regulatory ‘harmonisation’ attempts to force regulators to think only about how laws can be as ‘minimally trade distorting’ as possible.

Is that really the pinnacle of European and Canadian ‘values’?

Trump claims that corporations have become too mixed up with foreigners, too disinterested in forwarding the interests of the state.

We cannot fight this with ‘more of the same’, by pretending that economic globalisation has been wonderful for everyone and let’s have more of it.

The idea that trade deals create only ‘winners’ is totally discredited.

But CETA assumes everything is ‘win-win’ and makes no provision for these losers – even though serious assessments warn that up to 200,000 jobs could be lost and workers relative wages could fall.

This simply helps Trump’s rhetoric about salvation to be found in the aggressive nation state, backed to the hilt by corporate power.

How do we fight Trumpism?

By showing that the solution to devastating corporate trade pacts isn’t ‘beggar my neighbour’ economics, but a trade system based on the needs of society – building public services, creating decent jobs, laws to constrain the most powerful exploiting the least powerful.

Without this, everything that Trump represents will grow.